UN reports on racism in Sweden and the Netherlands highlight the need to tackle Afrophobia across Europe
By Claire Fernandez, Deputy Director Policy, European Network Against Racism
2 November 2015 - Concerns over the increasing ill-treatment and violence targeting asylum seekers and migrants in Europe have confirmed ENAR’s worse predictions on deeply-rooted and structural racism and xenophobia. The recent racist killings at a school in Sweden are the latest in a series of violent incidents targeting ethnic minorities. In this context, United Nations bodies have recently issued damning reports on racism in two Western European countries which usually praise themselves for their tolerance: the Netherlands and Sweden.
Based on the UN Decade for People of African Descent that started in 2015, the UN bodies looked specifically at the situation of people of African descent in these two countries and highlighted a number of concerns. Their recommendations draw lessons for Dutch and Swedish authorities as well as for the EU and its Member States as a whole. People of African descent and Black Europeans are amongst the groups most targeted by discriminatory practices and yet these remain largely invisible and overlooked.
In both the Swedish and the Dutch reviews, the UN bodies encouraged states to recognise the specificities of Afrophobia - racism and discrimination affecting people of African descent - and to adopt plans of actions implemented by dedicated institutions in partnership with civil society and communities. They also called for the collection of disaggregated equality data to monitor and plan strategies to address discrimination.
The colonial and slavery past of both states laid the foundations for contemporary forms of racism affecting people of African descent. While Afro-Swedes do not all share a common history of enslavement, the UN Working Group on People of African Descent notes that “Afro-Swedes are a group that is racialized in particular ways, situated in internationally widespread racial hierarchies that often place black people at the bottom, implicated by the legacies of the transatlantic trade and European colonialism”. States should establish a national day of remembrance for victims of the slave trade, conduct awareness campaigns, and consider modules in school curricula on European states’ role in slavery and colonialism and black people’s positive contribution to European societies. The current figure of Black Pete in the Netherlands, with the use of black face and other racial stereotypes, is also highlighted as one of the most widespread illustrations of Afrophobic stereotypes that should be abolished.
The low rate of investigation and convictions for racist crimes against people of African descent and Black Europeans is a concern across Europe, as featured in the European Network Against Racism’s Shadow Report on Racist Crime. Beyond creating a hate crime unit in Sweden, the UN recommends increased interaction of the police with communities and that the police record Afrophobic crime as a separate category. In both countries, there are concerns about discriminatory police practices, ethnic profiling and police brutality and the UN bodies recommend establishing mechanisms with the power to conduct independent investigations.
Last but not least, the UN bodies call for immediate action against labour market discrimination and unemployment of Black communities. Specific indicators for states to achieve a higher rate of employment and career progression for people of African descent should be established.
The call for specific strategies to address Afrophobia and assess the comparative situation of people of African descent and Black Europeans, based on solid and inclusive data collection and in partnership with communities, echoes demands from ENAR members. During an event organised by the Pan African Movement for Justice in October, Swedish Minister for Culture Alice Bah Kuhnke pledged her commitment to make this happen in her country. In the Netherlands, the government has announced that it will implement the UN Decade for People of African Descent in consultation with NGOs, after the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher acknowledged that Black Pete has become a symbol of racism in the Netherlands and needs to change.
It is time the EU and its Member States stop seeing the UN Decade as something limited to relations with third countries and seriously question their human rights and equality policies and practices within their own borders.